Bad Words

Bad Words photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgCritics often use the expression “check your brain at the door” for movies that are best enjoyed without thinking about their inherent ridiculousness. I’d like to coin the phrase, “check your morality at the door“ for Bad Words. The production has a gleefully amoral sensibility when it comes to what is socially acceptable to say in polite conversation. The story concerns Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman), a middle aged man who has strong-armed his way into a national spelling bee on a technicality. You must not have completed the 8th grade, the rules state. This junior high drop-out never did. Why he wants to compete in a children’s spelling bee is a bit of explanatory information that should be gleaned from watching the film.

Bad Words has a profoundly cynical overtone. The humor is pitch black so many viewers will understandably not warm up to its prickly charms. Guy walks through this chronicle perceptually annoyed with everyone and everything. He’s racist, sexist and an all-around first class SOB.  Perhaps anyone who’s ever been pestered on a plane by a child when you’d prefer just to relax, might sympathize a little with this jerk. Some of the putdowns he dishes out to the adults (and even some kids) are downright nasty in nature but they’re so creatively written that you’ll find your self gasping and laughing almost at the same time. The attitude is usually the kind of stuff I hate. Vulgarity is no substitute for wit. Yet Andrew Dodge’s script is intelligently irreverent. It doesn’t rely on mere shock value. Plus the drama doesn’t hold up Guy as someone to emulate. There is an ultimate point to the madness.

For most of the picture, Bad Words’ dark outlook means to subvert clichéd Hollywood tales where the optimistic adult inspires a youngster to be a better person. If Bad Words is guilty of a legitimate offense, it would be in betraying its initial politically incorrect premise with an ending that devolves into saccharine schmaltz. The change in atmosphere doesn’t ring true because it’s a complete sellout of the acerbic first half. A sincere but awkward 10 year old proves to be his undoing. Pint sized actor Rohan Chand is a genuinely sweet presence. He is really winning as Chaitanya Chopra. The descent into sentiment is both the screenplay’s weakness and success. It’s hard not to appreciate Chand’s toothsome tyke who balances out a lot of the nastiness. The saga still treats Guy Trilby as a misanthrope. But it makes Jason Bateman’s character easier to take because the child becomes his comic foil. Underlying the “clutch the pearls” shenanigans is a moral center that has its heart in the right place. You might roll your eyes at the resolution, but you’ll savor the warmth as well.

20 Responses to “Bad Words”

  1. Jason Bateman can do no wrong. I’m looking forward to seeing this one.


  2. Not going to lie, I look forward to Jason Bateman getting to flex his d-bag muscle for this role. I really have been enjoying some of Arrested Development lately and am becoming a bigger appreciator of what he does even if I find him not operating at 100% all the time. This little premise sounds like it could make some good use of him and by your review it seems that way.


    • Arrested Development is probably the closest role that he’s ever done to this, but it is still a stretch.

      Bad Words proves he makes a capable director as well. Not bad for his feature film debut.


    • Interesting point about JB at times ‘not operating at 100%’. Please tell me more! I’m always blinded by his deadpan, too cool for school sexiness 😎 (hangs head in shame).


  3. Good review Mark. I laughed more often than I probably should have with this. By the same token though, it isn’t anything spectacular. It’s just a fine comedy.


  4. Enjoyed the review. I do have to say that I have absolutely no interest in this one. I am so sick of Hollywood’s dependence on vulgarity when it comes to comedy these days. It’s as if any hint of originality is thrown aside and full use of vulgarity is always employed.


    • It’s very much in the same vein as “vulgar” comedies like A Fish Called Wanda, The War of the Roses and Bad Santa. Definitely not family viewing, but very original.


      • Hmm, It’s interesting that you put War of the Roses and Bad Santa together. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen Roses but I didn’t remember it being nearly as “vulgar” as Bad Santa.


  5. Great review, Mark. Glad to see it’s a good one.


  6. Within the first 5 minutes, I had to remove my morality cap. I’m a huge fan of Jason Bateman and was excited about this. Had not seen any trailers, so didn’t know what to expect. Boy was I surprised. I actually liked it. I laughed so much, even though I felt bad for laughing. It was fun and I enjoyed it. 3 1/2 stars


    • I hadn’t seen any promotion for this film. Saw it cold. Then watched the trailer afterwards and realized it ruins the entire plot and most of the jokes. Let’s never watch trailers again. lol


  7. I’ve heard that the ending is where this film falters from a few people, so I wasn’t surprised to see that criticism in your review. I’ve also read that the movie is incredibly vulgar, but in an entertaining way. Like you, I think I can check my morality at the door for the sake of this comedy.


  8. My family started watching this movie but we didn’t think it was funny at all. The humor wasn’t appealing and my dad actually went “aaaww” and frowned when Jason Bateman lied about sleeping with the oriental kid’s mother and made him lose the bee. My dad and I love black comedies typically, “God Bless America” by Bobcat Goldthwait is a funnier and better option IMO; Dad and I love that movie. Have you seen it? It’s over-the-top but great. Dad actually fell asleep during this one, which wasn’t exactly “Bad Words”‘ fault because my Dad is always tired because of his cop job at the rehabilitation center. We turned it off after he zonked out. This movie might’ve gotten better, but I am reluctant to return to it because of the lame humor.

    P.S. Why was the reporter f’ing Jason Bateman’s character? He was a grade-A douchepickle.


    • I can appreciate that Bad Words isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. That’s often the case with comedies, especially dark ones like this. I never cared much for Bad Santa for example.

      I have not seen anything Bobcat Goldthwait has done since the 90s TV series Unhappily Ever After. However you’re not the first person to recommend God Bless America to me, so I’ll add it to my “must watch” list.


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